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Atrocity Alert No. 128 (24 October 2018): Nigeria, Cameroon, CAR and DRC

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Inter-communal violence threatens civilians in northern Nigeria

On Sunday, 21 October, government authorities in Nigeria’s northern Kaduna State deployed a “Special Intervention Force” and imposed a 24-hour curfew in the region. The curfew was in response to inter-communal violence that erupted over the weekend in Kaduna city, just days after 55 people were killed during clashes in the town of Kasuwan Magani.

Since 2011 Kaduna State has experienced increasing instability and violence, largely as a result of recurring conflict between settled farmers and semi-nomadic herders over land use and resource allocation. As most herders are ethnic Fulani Muslims and the majority of farming communities are Christians from various ethnic groups, the conflict risks escalating into wider identity-based violence. The recent clashes in Kaduna State took place mainly between Hausa Muslim and Adara Christian youths, reflecting increasing societal fracturing along religious lines. The violence has also displaced thousands of people.

The Nigerian government is currently dealing with multiple security threats that continue to place civilians at risk of mass atrocity crimes. Following the imposition of the curfew in Kaduna State, President Muhammadu Buhari said that police had been sent to “flashpoints” and “have been authorised to do everything possible to restore calm.” President Buhari is running for re-election in February 2019 and has prioritized national security as a key component of his campaign.

In response to the current crisis in Kaduna State, the Nigerian government should intensify efforts to strengthen local security and bolster the rule of law. It is also essential to address the root causes of recurring identity-based conflict through socio-economic initiatives that address issues of land management and rural development, as well as through ending impunity for those who incite violence.

Growing threat of atrocities in Cameroon following disputed election

On Monday, 22 October, the Constitutional Council declared Paul Biya to have won a seventh term as President of Cameroon. President Biya reportedly won 71.3 percent of the vote during the recent election, placing him ahead of 22 other candidates.

However, according to the International Crisis Group, voter turnout was reportedly as low as five percent in Cameroon’s North-West and South-West provinces, where violence between armed Anglophone separatists and government security forces has escalated dramatically in recent months. Since January more than 400 civilians have reportedly been killed, and over 246,000 people have been displaced within the South-West region alone. Gun battles between armed separatists and the security forces were reported throughout the Anglophone region on the day of the election.

The security situation within Cameroon remains tense – riot police were deployed to the cities of Yaounde and Douala on 21 October to suppress protests calling for the annulment of the election. Ahead of the announcement of the election results, Anglophone separatists also torched the home of moderate Anglophone opposition leader Ni John Fru Ndi of the Social Democratic Front and kidnapped his sister.

In the aftermath of the presidential election, civilians in Cameroon are facing an increased risk of mass atrocity crimes perpetrated by state security forces and armed separatist groups. However, the post-election period also provides a critical window of opportunity for President Biya’s government to take expeditious action to halt extrajudicial killings and negotiate an end to the Anglophone conflict. The African Union and UN Security Council must engage with President Biya and ensure the government upholds its responsibility to protect all populations in Cameroon, regardless of their language group or cultural identity.

Mass expulsion of Congolese migrants from Angola

There is growing concern regarding the rapidly-deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as an estimated 380,000 Congolese migrants have fled from neighboring Angola in the past month. Reports suggest that in some places as many as 1,000 people have crossed the DRC border every hour, with some 200,000 Congolese having fled into Kasaï Province alone. Their arrival is the result of a mass expulsion of Congolese migrants by the Angolan authorities during a crackdown on the country’s informal mining sector.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said that some of those returning to the DRC from Angola report having been attacked with machetes and having their homes burnt down by Angolan security forces and armed gangs. UNHCR has also received accounts of sexual violence perpetrated against displaced Congolese by security forces on both sides of the border.

The mass expulsion of Congolese migrants threatens to further destabilize the fragile Kasaï region, where civilians already face a humanitarian crisis and the threat of atrocities perpetuated by armed groups. With less than two months until the presidential election in the DRC on 23 December, the outgoing government, in close collaboration with UN Peacekeeping Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), must intensify efforts to improve the protection of civilians and ensure migrants are able to safely return to the Congo. The Angolan authorities, meanwhile, must end the violent expulsion of Congolese migrants.

New UN report details atrocities and civilian protection challenges in CAR

On 15 October the UN Secretary-General released a report on the Central African Republic (CAR) and the implementation of the mandate of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the country (MINUSCA) from 15 June–15 October. The report highlights the dire humanitarian crisis, emphasizing that CAR ranks second to last on the current Human Development Index and that more than half the population require humanitarian assistance to survive.

Predatory armed groups, weak state institutions and continuing attacks on civilians leave populations at ongoing risk of mass atrocities. As of 1 October more than a quarter of CAR’s population has fled their homes, with over 616,000 Central Africans internally displaced and 572,000 refugees in neighboring countries.

The Secretary-General’s report notes that the mandate of MINUSCA to protect civilians has been “hampered by serious structural flaws, protection gaps and institutional shortcomings, including a lack of national ownership and responsibility.” During his 23 October briefing to the Security Council, the UN Special Representative in CAR, Parfait Onanga, stated that MINUSCA should continue to support the government of CAR to reestablish the rule of law, and eliminate ungoverned spaces throughout the country.

Much of the ongoing violence in CAR can be attributed to the ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka armed groups, and may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. The 22 October inaugural session of the Special Criminal Court in Bangui has provided an opportunity for renewed attention on efforts to hold those who perpetrate such crimes accountable. MINUSCA has said it will “spare no effort” to help the CAR authorities bring the perpetrators of atrocities to justice.

National authorities - with the support of the African Union and the entire international community - should ensure the Special Criminal Court can effectively fulfill its mandate and end impunity for atrocities in CAR once and for all.